WASHINGTON — Virgin Galactic announced Feb. 12 that the company is opening a new facility in Long Beach, California, devoted to development of its small satellite launch vehicle.
Virgin Galactic said that it is leasing a 13,900-square-meter building at the Long Beach Airport that it will use for the design and manufacturing of LauncherOne. The company did not disclose the terms of the lease.
“The technical progress our team has made designing and testing LauncherOne has enabled a move into a dedicated facility to produce the rocket at quantity,” Virgin Galactic chief executive George Whitesides said in a statement announcing the new facility. LauncherOne work has been based to date in Mojave, California.
LauncherOne is an air-launch system for satellites weighing up to 225 kilograms. The system will use the same aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo, as the company’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle, but replaces SpaceShipTwo with a two-stage launch vehicle using engines fueled by liquid oxygen and kerosene.
At the Federal Aviation Administration Commercial Space Transportation Conference Feb. 4, William Pomerantz, vice president of special projects for Virgin Galactic, said the company has already tested engines and other “core infrastructure” of LauncherOne. “We are a fairly vertically-integrated team,” he said. “We really do control a lot of the production in house.”
Pomerantz said that about 60 of the 450 employees of Virgin Galactic and its wholly-owned subsidiary, The Spaceship Company, are currently dedicated to the LauncherOne program.
Virgin Galactic said it will hold a job fair at its new Long Beach facility March 7, but did not disclose how many people it plans to hire there. The Virgin Galactic website lists approximately 20 job opening related to the LauncherOne program as of Feb. 12.
When Virgin Galactic announced the LauncherOne program in 2012, it said it had signed up several companies as initial customers, including Planetary Resources, GeoOptics, Spaceflight Inc., and Skybox Imaging, since acquired by Google.
In January, the Virgin Group announced it was investing in OneWeb, a venture that plans a constellation of nearly 650 satellites in low Earth orbit to provide broadband communications, with at least some of those satellites to be launched by LauncherOne.